Tech Insights

Swiss Startup Turns Retired Wind Turbines Into Solar Panel Support Beams

July 20, 2023 by Claire Turvill

In an age of finding creative ways to recycle end-of-life products, a Swiss startup is using retired wind turbine blades as solar panel support beams.

The expected lifetime for wind turbines can vary depending on the type of turbine, maintenance practices, and environmental conditions, but is, on average, about 20 to 25 years.


Used wind turbine blades become solar support beams

Used wind turbine blades become solar support beams. Image used courtesy of Turn2Sun

 

Although recycling is common for most turbine components due to their steel and metal composition, the rotor blades present a more complex challenge. Rotor blades are typically made from materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber, for which current disposal techniques involve burning in cement or incineration plants, which are heavy polluters.

So what happens when infrastructure designed to aid environmental initiatives becomes an environmental hazard? Researchers find new ways to recycle.

 

Innovative Solar

A Swiss start-up, Turn2Sun, has created a second-life for wind turbines called Blade2Sun. This novel invention uses reclaimed wind turbine blades as horizontal support for solar panels instead of metal beams.

The company has set out to accelerate the deployment of solar by minimizing the impact installations have on the ground. While the specific impacts of solar installations can vary depending on location, scale, and design, improper planning or site management can affect the ecosystem's health.

The solution presented by Turn2Sun is a PV monoaxial tracker constructed from repurposed wind turbine blades

Leveraging the inherent strength of these blades, the design allows for structures with expansive wingspans, effectively covering large areas while minimizing ground usage through strategically spaced foundations. This unique approach enables the installation of large PV arrays with reduced impact on the underlying land, providing an environmentally conscious solution for harnessing solar energy.

Within the next few years, 25,000 wind turbines are expected to be retired in Europe. This provides an opportunity to test the viability of this reuse system.

In collaboration with the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, there is a planned test installation in the Alps for autumn 2023. This initiative's primary objective is to assess a hybrid system's capability to generate sustainable energy in challenging weather conditions. 

The test installation will feature a combination of a small wind turbine equipped with bifacial photovoltaic solar blades. Based on our projections, the wind turbine is expected to produce approximately 27 MWh/year of energy, while the solar installation is anticipated to generate approximately 35 MWh/year. This comprehensive test will provide valuable insights into the performance and viability of this hybrid renewable energy solution in harsh alpine environments.

 

Vert2Sun

Turn2Sun offers another innovative solar solution called Vert2Sun, a vertical bifacial panel. The vertical solar installations are designed to seamlessly adapt to the terrain while maintaining minimal economic and ecological costs. 

The primary objective is to create new electricity production spaces with a significantly reduced footprint. With their ease of installation and local manufacturing, these installations provide a competitive solution in the renewable energy sector.

 

Bifacial vertical solar installations

Bifacial vertical solar installations. Image used courtesy of Turn2Sun

 

This solution is ideal for fencing industrial sites, along railways, or highways and avoids some challenges of conventional solar installations, such as being blocked by snow accumulation. It also has the unique characteristic of increased production in the winter thanks to the albedo effect and the reflection of the sun off of snow.

 

Accelerating the Energy Transition

As solar grows as a primary option for the energy transition, Turn2Sun is focused on easing the transition with solutions that address the need for new space to increase the deployment of large-scale solar innovations.